Soccer / usa

Deep Dive Analysis of USMNT Current State of Affairs
A new manager has been hired, January training camp is in session, and a new record transfer fee has been set for an American. I’m examining it all in this USMNT deep dive. There are a couple of reasons why now is the perfect time to do situation report on the USA Men’s National Team. Everyone knows that 2018 was hell for the USMNT, losing to Trinidad and Tobago to be knocked out of WC qualifying. The loss signaled the lowest point in national team history and forced a hard reset for the team. For today, we’re going to look at how the squad has fared since then and what to look forward to in 2019. But first, as I said, now is a perfect time to evaluate the situation. The end of the New Year marks the beginning of International January Camp for the USMNT, which means they are currently in Chula Vista, California for training. Additionally, the US Federation named Gregg Berhalter as the new manager moving forward after Bruce Arena failed to get the US to Russia. And finally, big transfer news recently broke about American starlet Christian Pulisic as he is now set to move from Dortmund to Chelsea a for $73 million USD fee. We’re going to talk about all of those things and more. So let’s get stuck in. Hiring of Gregg Berhalter On the first of December, merely a month ago, Gregg Berhalter was named permanent head coach of the USMNT, resulting in interim manager Dave Sarachan being removed from the position. Sarachan did well over the past months he was in charge, leading the USA to a 1-1 draw with France weeks before France would go on to win the World Cup. Berhalter left is managerial position with the Columbus Crew to take the new job with the national team. Since the Crew have been my team for many years, I’ve learned a lot about Gregg since he joined the Crew. His time with the club has shown off his talents and ability to lead teams to success. While we are on the subject, I want to discuss the pros and cons with the hiring of Berhalter. The USMNT coaching job is very sought after since it is a very high paying job with lots of media coverage. High profile names were rumored for months as the US Federation selected a replacement. In the end, they would go after a former USMNT player to fill the vacancy, and I think this was a smart decision. Berhalter brings a lot of attractive qualities to the team. Notably his personal experience playing on the national team, but perhaps even more important is his knowledge of the American player pool. Berhalter knows American players better than almost anyone else, knowing how to develop a system that will benefit their skill sets. While at Columbus Berhalter used a high possession style of play with overlapping fullbacks. Often the Crew would look to overwhelm teams with offensive numbers, and on defense, they would try to isolate players, forcing turnovers in vulnerable positions. It remains to be seen if he will use a similar style of play with the national team. Regardless, I do expect him to develop a system that will benefit his player base. One of the biggest negatives I've found with Berhalter over the years is his inability to show flexibility and make necessary changes. When the Crew had vital players out due to injuries, Berhalter refused to change formation or tactics--instead forcing the same system but without the appropriate players. The result was an eleven game winless streak, dropping the team to last place in the conference. Regardless, I think Berhalter was a smart choice. He is guaranteed to field the strongest players he has, instead of playing favorites like Bruce Arena. We will get a hardnose disciplined style of play on the field which is a far cry from what we’ve been seeing from the national team. Berhalter is not the answer to the endemic issues that plague the USMNT, but I do firmly believe he will get the team trending in the right direction. And at this point, that’s all I can ask for. January Training Camp Source: Twitter USMNT As I mentioned in the introduction, New Year celebrations always signal the start of national January Camp. The winter camp, often called Camp Cupcake due to it being the easiest camp of the year, is often a time where managers bring in younger new players to get a look at them. This year is no different. January’s camp will be the first time Berhalter will get a hands-on chance with the team. Of course Americans in European leagues will not be called into camp, only those players in MLS off-season will be included. Thus, Berhalter will be looking at the domestic talent he is most familiar with, as well as calling in some new young faces. He has also called in 13 uncapped players to train along a small handful of veterans. Additionally there are eight youth players who are products of MLS academies. Of those eight, Tyler Miller is the only new GK, training alongside Zach Stephen and Sean Johnson. The month-long camp all culminates at the end of January when the US hosts two friendlies planned against CONCACAF rivals. On January 27th, the USMNT will travel to Arizona to take on Panama before traveling to California, there they will host Costa Rica on February 2nd. The two fixtures will be the first matches with Berhalter at the helm, so any USMNT fans shouldn’t miss out getting a glimpse of what’s to come.USMNT Best Eleven Roster Evaluation The natural question at this point for those interested: what is the USMNT’s best eleven moving forward? A bias question without doubt, but one that deserves answering nonetheless. Formation: As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a lifelong Columbus Crew supporter which places me at an advantage when it comes to predicting what Gregg Berhalter will do with the USMNT. Likely Berhalter will adopt a lot of his tried and true tested tactics to the national team. Thus, I’ve went with a 4-2-3-1 which he almost solely uses. In practice it plays out more like a 4-2-4 with lots of numbers forward. He likes to play a pair of defending midfielders in front of the backline and lets the fullbacks overlap in attack. Centrally he likes to have a single free-roaming playmaker who is meant to go find the ball and make something happen. GK: I remember a time when it felt like the USMNT was stacked with great GK talent. It feels a lot thinner nowadays. Nonetheless there’s still reason to be excited. Zach Steffen will likely be Berhalter’s natural pick, being Steffen is arguably the best current USMNT keeper and was purchased by Berhalter at Columbus. For my number two, I’d take Jesse Gonzalez or Jonathan Klinsmann over Ethan Horvath or anyone else at the moment. CB: I’ve soured on John Brooks over time due to his poor international performances. However, there really isn’t anyone quite good enough at the moment to unseat his position. Cameron Carter-Vickers (Everton) could in time, but until then Brooks keeps his spot. Matt Miazga (Nantes) has continued to develop in Europe after being purchased by Chelsea and sent on loan to French side Nantes. There he’s gained loads of experience and his on ball passing gives him the other starting position. Another sub should be Erik Palmer-Brown (NAC Breda) who was recently purchased by Manchester City and sent on loan to Dutch side NAC Breda. LB/RB: A position that has plagued the USMNT for many, many years. Outside of Yedlin (Newcastle) the US hasn’t had a constant fullback for a while, which makes filling the position a bit tricky. In my opinion, Antonee Robinson (Wigan) should be the consistent pick for LB. Bought by Everton and loaned to Wigan, Robinson stands a good chance to see top flight minutes in the near future if he continues his course. Shaq Moore (Reus) had a lot of excitement around him when he was getting minutes at Levante, but he has now since been loaned to lower division Reus, while Levante sit mid-table in La Liga. Defending Midfielders: Due to Berhalter’s history I’m expecting him to deploy two holding midfielders. This gives him a lot of flexibility with his pairing. I like Weston McKennie (Shalke) and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)—who are both products of Bundasliga academies. Other valid picks would including Nick Taitague, who is also at Shalke, and 6’1” Keaton Parks who is fighting for minutes at Benfica. CM/Playmaker: Pulisic (BVB) is the first name on the lineup, but the real question is what role will he play? Berhalter likes to play with a true #10 playmaker at Columbus who is free to roam anywhere on the pitch. I think it’s likely he will dispatch Pulisic in a similar fashion due to Pulisic playing best centrally for the USMNT. LW/RW: I think Timothy Weah (PSG), who is finding successful minutes at PSG, will likely be a name that goes on the roster without much consideration. Being 18 years old and getting first team minutes at PSG makes the case for him. Deciding who to play opposite him takes a bit more thought. My inclusion of Gyasi Zardes (Columbus) is based on Berhalter recently purchasing him at Columbus and then having a lot of success with him, placing him in the manager’s good graces. If we don’t see him on the RW, we might also see him as a lone striker. Forwards: As previously mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised him Zardes plays a lone striker in the first competitive match Berhalter oversees. It all depends on what midfielder decisions he makes. That said, Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) would be the other likely candidate. Sargent is scoring goals in the Bundasliga and would fit nicely into Berhalter’s style of play. Pulisic’s Chelsea Transfer Another major talking point at the moment is Chelsea acquiring Christian Pulisic for $73 million USD. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the transfer. On one hand, this is the big transfer Pulisic was waiting on. Sets a record transfer for an American, goes to a top club in the EPL, will be competing for a spot each day, and sets up Chelsea to market strongly in the USA. That’s basically the check list everyone hoped for. On the other hand, I feel very nervous about it being Chelsea for a variety of reasons. I’m a bit skeptical of how Sari will develop Pulisic. I would feel much more comfortable if he was playing under someone like Klopp. I worry about his playing time, as this is probably the most important thing for Pulisic, getting minutes. Additionally, the list of top players who have failed at Chelsea is grounds for concerns. Falcao, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Fernando Torres and Bakayoko are just a small handful of failed Chelsea transfers during the Abramovich era. I don’t want to see Pulisic’s name on that list. However, if he breaks out at Chelsea, he will have done something no other American has done (outside of goal keepers). The stakes are high and have been set for the young American. I’ll have to set my own personal bias aside because I absolutely despise Chelsea and have for some time. I’ve disliked them since the Lampard days, and now my beloved Pulisic is destined to end up there. If there’s anyone who could soften my heart towards the Chelsea it would be the young American from Pennsylvania. Upcoming Competitive Fixtures – Gold Cup One of the primary goals of this year's USMNT January Camp is to prepare for the upcoming Gold Cup competition. The Gold Cup takes place every two years and includes the CONCACAF nations (North and Central America, and the Caribbean). The competition has been expanded this year from 12 teams to 16. The USA is defending champions and will look to get back on the right track internationally with another Gold Cup trophy. This will be Berhalters first real test, and the first time we will get to see what the team looks like under new guidance. The US is set to play their first match (June 18th) at the new Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. After the opening match, the US will play the rest of their fixtures (June 22nd) at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The USA has been placed in Group D with the other top seeded nations separated into the other three groups. Those nations include Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras, with the rest of the lower ranked nations filling in the reaming spots. Solid performances during the Gold Cup is the exact thing Berhalter needs to get the doubters on his side. If he fields a young, energetic team, I think most US fans will be happy no matter what the results. However, if he goes back to calling on old MLS veterans to squeak by, I’m going to lose my mind, although I don’t think this will be the case. Berhalter is much too smart for that business. Here’s to remaining hopeful in 2019 for the future of our national team. _______________________________________________________________________________________